Loving Our Undocumented Neighbors

Undocumented immigration is a very complex, multifaceted topic in our nation. It is a subject so controversial, that even mature believers can find themselves holding biblically opposing points of view. Some emphasize the importance of loving your neighbor (the undocumented immigrant) and others emphasize the importance of submitting to our authorities. So, which is it? The truth is, both principles are biblical, and obedience to them is always executed in the context of God’s love. What should motivate our obedience should always be love for God and others.

Many times, believers choose to obey the law out of self-love; their motivation is based on a fear that undocumented immigrants are threatening the way of life that they deeply love. While it may look like it on the surface, that kind of self-serving motivation does not honor the intent of the command to submit to your authorities (Rom 13:1) because, at the heart of the matter, it merely seeks to preserve one’s own comfort. The point here is not to argue the legitimacy or illegitimacy of these fears, but to emphasize that these fears should not cause believers to be unloving to our undocumented neighbors. When we are motivated by this kind of fear, we may find ourselves seeking protection, peace, and the preservation of our preferred way of life from our government. When we live like this, our identity will be on unstable ground. We know throughout history that nations are not static; they change and eventually they cease to be. But when our protection, peace and our way of life comes from Christ, the believer will not be shaken.

The believer needs to be clear in his/her mind that the motivation to obey any commandment is always to help us love more like God. Christ makes this clear when he challenges the scribes for the way that they are exceedingly diligent and careful in small matters but disregard the principal points of the Law. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42). With this statement Jesus confirms that all the laws of God must be obeyed, but He also indicates that “…justice and the love of God” are the most important.

In a similar situation, Jesus addressed the priority we can put on strict obedience to the law, even in the face of genuine need. His response was motivated by a God-glorifying compassion for genuine need. One time, Jesus was walking with his disciples through grain fields on a Sabbath and “His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matt. 12:1-4,7)

Jesus illustrates the point that the law of the Sabbath and the Levitical law of the bread of the Presence were being broken in light of a very basic human need (being hungry). Furthermore, Jesus makes clear that those in need are not guilty, but in fact guiltless. Jesus exalts the importance of being merciful and loving over the strict adherence to the law no matter how sacred the law is. God desires for us to be merciful and compassionate with those in need. I believe that sometimes it is very easy for us to forget how merciful God continues to be with us, even though we continue to break many of His commandments for many self-loving motives.

The challenge for most of us is not that we are confused about what to obey but that we are often unwilling to love others as God loves them. I believe that Jesus clearly teaches that compassion triumphs over any judgment of the law when we are truly motivated by His love. Let us all be exhorted to love our undocumented neighbors with the love of God.